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BMC polls: Noisy campaigns silent on citizens’ woes

Goons versus extortionists, transparency in the civic body versus transparency in the state government, tiffs over who the real Mumbaiite is, and,an opposition fighting for its own space by hitting out at the two ruling parties...

mumbai Updated: Feb 21, 2017 09:04 IST
It’s time to vote now, but rarely were the real, chronic issues with the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) that directly impact citizens’ lives were sidelined in the shrill campaign.
It’s time to vote now, but rarely were the real, chronic issues with the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) that directly impact citizens’ lives were sidelined in the shrill campaign.(HT )

Goons versus extortionists, transparency in the civic body versus transparency in the state government, tiffs over who the real Mumbaiite is, and,an opposition fighting for its own space by hitting out at the two ruling parties...

The collapse of the BJP-Sena alliance, and the Congress and Nationalist Congress Party tie-up meant a campaign season full of name-calling and mudslinging.

It’s time to vote now, but rarely were the real, chronic issues with the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) that directly impact citizens’ lives were sidelined in the shrill campaign.

Pressing questions on basic issues such as good quality roads, free and public access to open spaces in the city, a garbage-free city, and Mumbai’s plan for the future remained unanswered. While these figured in the political manifestos of all the prominent parties, these were only in the form of sweeping statements promising ‘pothole-free roads’ and ‘rejuvenation of open spaces’ that have formed the fine print of most manifestos for at least the past two civic polls. The parties offered no clarity on how they plan to achieve this, neither in their manifestos, nor in the public addresses and rallies of its major leaders.

Ashoke Pandit, a citizen activist from Juhu, said, “No one reads manifesto. It is a cut-paste paper work. I wanted to know what will be offered to me in next five years, but all I heard was abuses thrown against each other. This took over all the important issues that needed to be addressed.”

Mumbai has been grappling with inadequate open spaces with a per capita open space of just 2.48 square metres as per the open spaces reservation in the city’s development plan. In reality, this dwindles to less than 1 square metre per person with several of these open spaces built upon, not in use, or having restricted entry.

A policy to free up these open spaces, develop and maintain them has been long overdue, and stuck in political tangles with a significant number of such plots currently in the care of trusts backed by political bigwigs. Several of these plots, which were allotted under the old contentious caretaker policy that was later stayed, have been turned into swanky clubs with access based on a membership fee, and open entry for the public in a limited area for a restricted time. However, despite this, none of the parties have clearly stated how they plan to improve access to open spaces. While the BJP and Congress manifestos promise that the BMC will maintain open spaces, they are silent on reclaiming existing plots handed out under the caretaker policy.

Nayana Kathpalia, an activist, said, “The first draft of the open spaces policy came in 2007, and ten years later it is still under works. These are promises that will only remain on paper, as political parties are never on the same page when it comes to maintaining open spaces.”

Despite spending about Rs 1,500 crore annually on Mumbai’s roads, potholes continue unabated during the monsoon. Since the last election in 2012, the BMC has recorded 87,000 potholes across the city. Despite bad roads having turned into one of Mumbai’s identities nationally, political parties have not come up with any new solutions or technologies to offer voters.

While pothole-free roads and fast-tracking concretization are promises seen on nearly every party’s manifesto, how they exactly plan to improve the quality of works and curb constant digging for utility works remains unanswered. Instead, the Shiv Sena and BJP have focused on promising showpiece projects – a coastal freeway from Nariman Point to Dahisar, and a Goregaon Mulund link road by the former, and elevated roads running 250 kms in length by the latter.

Mumbai’s draft Development Plan (DP) was a political hot potato in the civic body over the past two years, with the city’s blueprint for the next two decades proposing a spurt in the Floor Space Index (FSI) and affordable housing by opening up No Development Zones (NDZs). However, when it came to campaigning for elections, none of the political parties opposed or supported the plan in their manifestos. While Congress was the first to oppose the draft in the BMC’s general body, it failed to even mention the issue in its manifesto. The BJP has, however, promised to make the implementation of the DP a mandatory duty of the BMC, with just 30 percent of the current DP, published in 1994, having been implemented.

Mumbai also struggles to manage its 9,400 tonnes of daily waste with two of its dumping grounds saturated beyond capacity. However, the only place where Mumbai’s garbage featured in political leaders’ verbal campaigning was in political one-upmanship and graft charges. Shiv Sena and BJP leaders stated their wish to close the Deonar and Mulund dumping grounds, but only while pointing at each other, alleging vested interests in the promise. Moreover, none of the parties’ manifestos, except for the Congress, have said a single word about closing dumping grounds, which have turned into a serious health hazard for the city. The Congress promises to move these out of the city, but does not specify where and how.

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